Opinion: How to begin a startup

When I was 24 I started my own company, Opara. Before that, at age 22, I was responsible for both bringing to life and running the Security Operations Center of Tempest Security Intelligence, a global cyber security consulting firm that has been delivering exceptional quality service to its clients since the year 2000.

It was the closest thing related to management I had ever faced, but I did it pretty well as a manager of a 24x7 operation with 10 people working exhaustively in order to find anomalous behaviour that may look malicious. We monitored mostly Brazilian large companies such as e-commerces, telecom companies and heavy industries.

While managing a unit, I was introduced for the first time to business concepts like cash flow, people management and customer relationship.

Back to Opara, as its CEO things got tough. Despite my inexperience, I managed to lead the startup from Recife, located at the Northeast of Brazil, to various competitions, like Desafio Brasil FGV/Intel and IBM Smartcamp (where we were chosen as one of the top 5 Brazilian startups along with EasyTaxi).

At this time, I was responsible for building partnerships and fostering relationships between Opara and global organizations like IBM, Enterprise Ireland and Startup Bootcamp, as well as Brazilian’s SEBRAE and Porto Digital.

In early 2012, Opara was chosen from hundreds of applicants to join the Startup Bootcamp program — as the first Brazilian startup — in Dublin, Ireland. My main responsibilities covered all business-related areas of the company: product design, interaction with mentors and potential investors.

After a little bit of my personal entrepreneurship history, it is important to mention that we shut down the operation of Opara (which is a subject for another post) and it was no reason for me to be out of the startup business. Due to my trajectory in the startup world, I am still invited to lecture about my experience and also act as a mentor of different businesses. That’s why I came up with this post’s idea — the real message is to share my experience (I am still an entrepreneur — that’s another post, again).

The first thing that must be taken into account since the early stages is: long before a startup, your company is a business. And as a business, it requires profit. And what brings money?

Selling your product.

It sounds way easy, but this is actually the most common mistake new entrepreneurs make. Of course you know your product better than anyone else, but you must understand where your product fits, what is the idea it is showing people. How are you going to make others understand what you understand of your product? In short, you must make your product accessible, understandable, necessary.

In most cases, selling solves typical startup problems: product validation, market placement and, as a consequence, you get rewarded by being paid. Isn’t it what all is about? Solving problems with an idea and receiving something back.

I could list dozens of well-known-cool companies, with revenues of — oh, wait! — no revenues. Hence, a great deal of them are not validated enough to be considered as a product that may fill a real gap.

Nowadays, the problem is entrepreneurs are starting companies wishing to get funds. They don’t want to solve a problem or even consider selling their products. Investments are golden, I never said they weren’t. But when in the Brazilian context, you must be in great financial centers, such as São Paulo, in order to receive a good fat investment. Even so, you still need to sell your nice-to-have until it becomes must-have product. Either way you will do fine: investors or customers, you get your revenue. BAM!

Remember I told you the solution was easy? You could see it actually is, but it requires a little effort and some dance-according-to-the-song skills, which, in short, means selling your product the right way.